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India and the USA: Is it an alliance?
How close are India and the USA to each other in World Affairs today? Allies? Partners? If allied: against which potential common enemy? The history of Indo-US relations over the last 15 years is an amazing one. In the old days of the Cold War - who remembers them? – Nehru’s socialist India was ideologically and strategically close to the Soviet Union, while remaining firmly non-aligned. India was one of the world leaders against US policies, at least in rhetoric and in global politics. The disappearance of the Eastern Socialist Block in 1990 and of the Soviet Union in early 1992, however, triggered a general restructuring of the world’s political landscape. India first relinquished its socialist economy model, which led to a breathtaking economic take-off. India was welcome in the world of market economy countries. Then it aspired to more. In 1998, it exploded six nuclear devices triggering, thus, a prompt reply from its arch enemy Pakistan, which responded by exploding its own nuclear devices within weeks. If India’s strategic aim was to gain regional supremacy and an advantage over Pakistan, the strategy had failed; the arch enemies were at par again. And worse off because US President Clinton immediately imposed economic sanctions on both countries. It seemed that India had lost political ground, it was to a certain degree isolated. But the harsh conditions thus created were not to last. In 2000 already, things started to improve again with the visit to India by President Clinton in March and Prime Minister Vajpayee’s own visit to the US in September. As a result, Indo-US relations were suddenly at their best in 50 years. This found its expression in a statement issued by President Clinton and Prime Minister Vajpayee in New Delhi in which they declared that they shared a “vision of a closer and qualitatively new relationship for shaping a future of peace, prosperity, democracy, pluralism and freedom.” In return India reaffirmed its moratorium on nuclear explosive tests. This moment was not to be the peak of the relationship: the disaster of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, gave the relation one more push. In line with the world, the Indian government assured the USA of its full cooperation in fighting international terrorism, as did Pakistan, the long-standing ally of the USA. As a sign of recognition, the US Government lifted the economic embargoes it had imposed on both countries after they had carried out nuclear tests in 1998. As the USA moved on in their fight against terrorism, as they saw it, they launched in March 2003, as a next step, so to say, their operation against Saddam’s Iraq, the second Gulf War, as it was to be called. Without UN cover by a Security Council resolution, however, the US Government could not obtain Indian military support. But things were set to improve more anyway. Among many decisions to improve relations with major powers, Prime Minister Singh initialled with US President Bush in July 2005 an agreement to cooperate in defense matters and in civil nuclear-energy development. The next high point in the relationship was President Bush’s visit to India in March 2006 and the conclusion of an agreement on cooperation in development of India’s civilian nuclear-energy capability. It allowed sales of civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India. The necessary support of all 45 member countries of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, NSG, was secured during 2008, as a next step in a breathtaking return of India on the international stage as a fully operational and comprehensively sovereign and autonomous State. And more of good news was to come. 2010 saw the visits to New Delhi of the heads of Government of all five permanent members of the UN Security Council, to which India was to be elected in 2011 as a non-permanent member. Furthermore, the country’s candidacy for permanent membership was endorsed by President Obama during his visit to India in November 2010. One more boost in the bilateral relationship! During the same phase of continuous improvements of Indo-US relations, the neighbouring US-ally Pakistan suffered a dramatic blow in its own relationship with the US: the unannounced military raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden revealed a scaring inability of Pakistan to effectively control its territory, if not more, by allowing the world’s most wanted terrorist to hide in the country for years. Despite the embarrassment that the raid caused to Pakistan’s Government, the alliance with the US did not break down. So, India finds itself in a close friendship with the world’s leading economic and military power, which resembles a strategic partnership or an alliance, and lives with the fact that its neighbour and arch enemy entertains a formally even closer relationship with the same Superpower. Strategically, India cannot consider to be America’s fully-fledged ally or strategic partner, as long as this amazing triangle persists of which one part is considered to be a failing State and one of the world’s most dangerous safe havens for international terrorism. India cannot change this fact. Only the USA could. And should.
7th September 2013 / Philippe Welti